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ROME COUNCIL - For a More Equal Global Society

20-21 January 2003


1. Global policy in 2002 was determined by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. The Socialist International was involved in the pre-Summit preparations and has documented its views on the outcome. The Summit gave new impetus to global action to fight poverty and protect the environment. The understanding of sustainable development was broadened and strengthened as a result of the Summit. Governments reaffirmed commitments and agreed to new concrete targets for action to achieve more effective implementation of sustainable development objectives.

2. The year 2003 also holds several events in store that are important for global policy. This applies, in particular, to:

- the WTO Ministerial Conference, 10-14 September in Cancún (Mexico)

- the Ninth Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 1-12 December in Milan (Italy)

- the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), 10-12 December in Geneva (Switzerland)

- five PrepComs for UNCTAD XI 2004.

3. The Socialist International will share in the global discussion on the preparations for these conferences and set forth its position. The Council authorises the Committee on the Economy, Social Cohesion and the Environment to draw up the relevant statements. The Council recommends that the Regional Committees of the Socialist International should concern themselves with the agendas of these conferences.

4. World Summit on the Information Society

4.1 With a view to the World Summit on the Information Society the Socialist International reaffirms the decisions of its Committee on the Economy, Social Cohesion and the Environment "Bridges Across the Digital Divide: The Role of Education in the 21st Century". The Socialist International lays particular stress on the following:

4.2 With the end of the Cold War, old ideological divisions are over. Almost all countries agree for the need for market mechanisms at the state and global levels. But a more intractable division is taking hold, this time based on the creation, possession and imposition of technology. A small part of the globe, accounting for some 15 per cent of the earth's population, provides nearly all of the world's technological innovations. A second part, involving perhaps half of the world's population, is able to adopt these technologies in production and consumption. The remaining part, covering around a third of the world's population, is technologically disconnected, able neither to innovate at home nor adopt technologies from abroad.

4.3 The whole continent of Africa, except South Africa, has less internet traffic than Manhattan - not to speak of New York City as a whole. But not only are Third World countries losing in the digital race. Also old industrial or semi-industrial regions are threatened by this digital divide.

4.4 The digital divide is not only an international phenomenon. It also takes hold inside societies and states. "Have nets" and "have nots" exist not only on a global scale but also inside any single given country. While new technologies are taking hold, politicians responsible to their electorates and the democratic political parties have to give answers to the question of how to deal with the new exclusions and divisions created by these transformations.

4.5 States have to play an active role in building bridges over the digital divide and create opportunities which private actors - individuals or enterprises - can seize. It is not without interest to see how the world's leading digital nation, the USA, has acted in this respect during the presidency of Bill Clinton.

4.6 Social democratic governments, especially, have to give answers to the problems of the technologically divided world - at the national as well as at the international level. At the national level, especially in the OECD countries, the answer seems relatively clear: investing in research and development, education and training, in re-organising and modernising the educational sector and increasing efforts that enable technologically disadvantaged social groups which set their hopes in social democracy. One of the most critical aspects is a lack of development and administration of the creative talent in science, art and technology.

4.7 At the same time, there are few encouraging signs in the broader field of general industrial development. Some countries have been able to nurture national enterprises which can compete internationally, not only in the field of production, but also in the field of innovation and research and development. But these centres of technological excellence outside the traditional industrial countries are few. Most have been created thanks to an active industrial policy of the state.

4.8 There still exist several ways which can be explored to help the technologically disconnected countries to narrow the technological gap:

- National politics have to put more attention on apprenticeship and training.

- International cooperation has in some cases to be rethought: more attention has to be paid to the creation of high-quality training and apprenticeships. Elite institutions such as universities and scientific training facilities have to be valued for their vital role in the process of development.

4.9 Within the framework of the World Trade Organisation, the General Agreement on Trade in Services, GATS, has a considerable impact on education. This may lead to increased interest in privatisation and eventually to the private financing of education. Existing plans to expand the GATS to the education sector raise great concern. Consequently consideration should be given to the exclusion of education from GATS.

5. WTO Ministerial Conference

5.1 The Socialist International pins great hopes on progress being made in the WTO Development Round in Cancún.

5.2 WTO Members will be asked to give a major push to conclude the latest round of global trade negotiations by January 2005. Uncertainty in the world economy, combined with growing international tension, has overshadowed the new Round and weakened the cause of multilateral cooperation. Yet this is precisely why the WTO's success is so vital.

5.3 Failure in Cancún could send an equally damaging signal to the developing world. In recent years more and more developing countries have turned to open trade as a key to growth, development, and poverty eradication. They have been convinced of the need for stronger multilateral rules, not weaker ones. More trade liberalisation, not less. An effective WTO, not an impotent one. Developing countries agreed to the launch of new negotiations on the promise that it would lead to opening markets, reducing subsidies, and liberalising technology – all issues of major importance to the developing world. An absence of significant progress before Cancún risks turning the idea of a "Development Round" into a hollow slogan. It could reinforce perceptions, widespread in certain quarters, that the industrialised world has lost its stomach for free trade.

6. These events, organised by the UN family, are not the only meetings influencing policy in 2003. The SI has great expectations of the Evian summit of the G8. At the same time the SI will work on proposals on how the G8 process can be transformed and broadened into one where there is greater participation and which is more democratic and truly global.